Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time Review (PS3, PS Vita)
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A faithful send-up of cartoon humor and polished platforming, Sly Cooper's long-awaited return keeps things fresh with astounding and compelling variety.
- Creative stealth platforming in vibrant worlds
- Endless variety and surprising gameplay mechanics
- Witty dialogue and cartoon humor
- Lackluster music
- Narrative missteps
- Derivative skills and upgrades
(continued from previous page) ...entries in Sly Cooper canon.
Thankfully, Thieves in Time is consistently great at what Sly Cooper games have always done well: stealth platforming in vibrant open worlds. Sly's momentum has been increased, and jumping height for all characters feels down, but this is by-and-large the same tight experience you remember. Each time period the gang visits serves as a new hub world, and each one is packed with luscious detail and the kind of architecture Sly excels at climbing. Bouncing from street to rooftop, sprinting across tightropes, falling silently behind the gold-lined pockets of a guard; this is quintessential Sly Cooper, and it's still amazingly fun. Sanzaru ups the ante by giving players more stuff to do than in any prior game. Clue bottles and treasures return from Sly 2; the latter will test your mettle with a timed race back to the gang's hideout. Meanwhile, all 30 clue bottles in each world are required to open that world's safe, which contains a unique power-up. Finally, Cooper mask tokens populate the game at large, often requiring a keen eye and powers you won't have at first sight.
Yes, try as you might, you won't find everything in a world on your first time through. You'll need one or more of the special costumes Sly acquires later. Much like the playable ancestors, costumes will keep newcomers and veterans alike supplied with an endlessly diverse array of missions and means to complete them. A boss fight might require you to don samurai armor and reflect oncoming fireballs; a particularly well-hidden Cooper mask in the second world might require costumes you don't obtain until the third and fourth. I was particularly impressed by the replayability these gameplay elements afford. In this regard, Thieves in Time soars over past entries, which are still diverse in their own right.
While the sum total of these additions is a move in the right direction, a few design choices and oversights keep Thieves in Time from being the leap forward it could be. I can acquiesce with the unexplained reset of all moves and abilities learned in prior entries – it's a series tradition which, in fact, makes more sense here, given the gang's time off. However, the upgrades you acquire via ThiefNet fail to differ in any meaningful way from past lineups. It's a missed opportunity, and the game is never difficult enough to necessitate learning the slightly more involved combos you'll come to possess. So too do I lament that ancestors are only playable in their specific time periods, although anyone with exposure to time travel fiction will immediately recognize the inherent paradoxical dangers. I'm more disappointed that, in spending time with his ancestors, Sly doesn't learn at least a few of their techniques for himself. It would seem like a logical reward for completing an episode, and could have contributed to very complex and rewarding endgame platforming.
Because the individual strengths of each ancestor ultimately serve a narrative purpose, I can't be too picky about what Sly doesn't learn - especially with such a varied crew watching his back. Bentley's technical wizardry is more important than ever, but his hacking endeavors are no longer confined to a single mini-game with ramping difficulty. Instead, you're treated to three wildly different mini-games that interchange when systems must be sabotaged. In a true feat of PlayStation dedication, Sanzaru even taints one hacking game with mandatory Sixaxis control. True to tradition, it handles like you'd expect: just well enough to function without too much frustration. More frustrating are the combat sections of Murray, and not for any sense of difficulty. Rather, this hippo's brand of brawling is as sloppy, unwieldy, and unsatisfying as it's ever been. It's strange that Sanzaru chose to unnecessarily toy with Sly's movement, which has always been a positive, and leave Murray's brutish mechanics untouched. Carmelita Fox brings up the rear with third-person shooting and generous snap-to targeting. Like every character, her sections are fun at worst and delightful at best, so it's a shame she doesn't get more screen time.
Thankfully, every minute of time during which this game occupies your screen is one of visual splendor. Worlds are absolutely bursting with period detail – from the blossoming flowers of feudal Japan to the storefronts and hay bales of medieval England. This cel-shaded ... (continued on next page)